The Gentleman who Yields Without Conviction

The Gentleman who Yields Without Conviction

Hello all,

I am going to be very honest, I have never liked Mr. Bingley. I know many many people disagree with me and are probably shaking their heads as they read this. A lot of readers think Mr. Bingley is a sweet gentleman. I do not disagree with that. But I have always found Mr. Bingley’s character very disappointing and I honestly believe that if Jane was a stronger character, she would never have agreed to marry him after the way he behaved.

Now, let’s talk about Mr. Bingley, shall we? The reason most people like Mr. Bingley is because our dear Miss Austen has a way of playing with our minds. Consider the way she introduces Mr. Bingley to the readers:

“Mr. Bingley was good-looking and gentlemanlike; he had a pleasant countenance, and easy, unaffected manners.”

This is the first time we read a description of Mr. Bingley and Jane Austen paints such a positive picture of the guy, the reader has no choice but to like him. But she doesn’t stop there. She goes on to paint such a dark picture of Mr. Darcy in the same paragraph.

“his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud; to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large estate in Derbyshire could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend.”

And then Austen deals us the final blow as she compares the behaviour of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy at the assembly. There is such a clear contrast between the two gentlemen, one being described as all kindness and well-mannered and the other the portrait of all that is displeasing. By drawing our attention to the great contrast between the two gentlemen’s behaviour, she makes us believe that Mr. Bingley has all the excellent qualities his friend lacks.

“Mr. Bingley had soon made himself acquainted with all the principal people in the room; he was lively and unreserved, danced every dance, was angry that the ball closed so early, and talked of giving one himself at Netherfield. Such amiable qualities must speak for themselves. What a contrast between him and his friend! Mr. Darcy danced only once with Mrs. Hurst and once with Miss Bingley, declined being introduced to any other lady, and spent the rest of the evening in walking about the room, speaking occasionally to one of his own party. His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again.”

It is no surprise that most readers, if not all, form a very positive first impression of Mr. Bingley and a very negative one of Mr. Darcy by the end of the assembly chapter. But then, Miss Austen, the clever storyteller that she is, starts to show us a different side of both characters, albeit in a manner that requires us to read between the lines. When Elizabeth and Jane are staying at Netherfield, we get to hear Mr. Bingley’s and Mr. Darcy’s opinion on different matters. Their conversation about an accomplished woman is very telling of the two gentlemen’s characters. Mr. Bingley argues that all young women are accomplished. Now, I don’t think he really believes that. I think he merely says things to impress others, or simply to make conversation. But Mr. Darcy is not like that. He expresses his opinion and doesn’t really care what others may think of him. HE DOES NOT PERFORM TO STRANGERS.

I really think Mr. Darcy has the true measure of his friend. And he tells Elizabeth (and us the readers) what type of man Bingley is. But Elizabeth doesn’t listen (and neither do we). Do we pay attention to Mr. Darcy’s words about his friend’s character? Consider the following conversation.

“Your humility, Mr. Bingley,” said Elizabeth, “must disarm reproof.”

“Nothing is more deceitful,” said Darcy, “than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.”

“And which of the two do you call my little recent piece of modesty?”

“The indirect boast; for you are really proud of your defects in writing, because you consider them as proceeding from a rapidity of thought and carelessness of execution, which, if not estimable, you think at least highly interesting. The power of doing anything with quickness is always prized much by the possessor, and often without any attention to the imperfection of the performance. When you told Mrs. Bennet this morning that if you ever resolved upon quitting Netherfield you should be gone in five minutes, you meant it to be a sort of panegyric, of compliment to yourself—and yet what is there so very laudable in a precipitance which must leave very necessary business undone, and can be of no real advantage to yourself or anyone else?”

“Nay,” cried Bingley, “this is too much, to remember at night all the foolish things that were said in the morning. And yet, upon my honour, I believe what I said of myself to be true, and I believe it at this moment. At least, therefore, I did not assume the character of needless precipitance merely to show off before the ladies.”

“I dare say you believed it; but I am by no means convinced that you would be gone with such celerity. Your conduct would be quite as dependent on chance as that of any man I know; and if, as you were mounting your horse, a friend were to say, ‘Bingley, you had better stay till next week,’ you would probably do it, you would probably not go—and at another word, might stay a month.”

“You have only proved by this,” cried Elizabeth, “that Mr. Bingley did not do justice to his own disposition. You have shown him off now much more than he did himself.”

“I am exceedingly gratified,” said Bingley, “by your converting what my friend says into a compliment on the sweetness of my temper. But I am afraid you are giving it a turn which that gentleman did by no means intend; for he would certainly think better of me, if under such a circumstance I were to give a flat denial, and ride off as fast as I could.”

“Would Mr. Darcy then consider the rashness of your original intentions as atoned for by your obstinacy in adhering to it?”

“Upon my word, I cannot exactly explain the matter; Darcy must speak for himself.”

“You expect me to account for opinions which you choose to call mine, but which I have never acknowledged. Allowing the case, however, to stand according to your representation, you must remember, Miss Bennet, that the friend who is supposed to desire his return to the house, and the delay of his plan, has merely desired it, asked it without offering one argument in favour of its propriety.”

“To yield readily—easily—to the persuasion of a friend is no merit with you.”

“To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either.”

The last line is probably one of my most beloved lines in all of Austen’s novels. Here, Darcy tells Elizabeth (and us) that Bingley is easily persuaded. He doesn’t think Bingley has bad intentions, but he knows his friend to be inconsistent. Was this not a warning? If Elizabeth was not so prejudiced against Darcy, would she have paid attention to the gentleman’s correct portrayal of his friend’s character? Would that not have put Jane on her guard and perhaps saved her from a lot of disappointment and heartache? We will never know, because Miss Austen, in her unique and brilliant style, commanded the story to unfold in this way.

As for Jane, as I mentioned earlier, I really believe she should not have accepted the gentleman so readily and easily after his return to the neighbourhood. If she was a stronger character and if her situation in life was not as it was, she would have refused him, or at least made it a little harder for the gentleman to regain her trust, respect and love.

In my first novel, To Save and Protect, I address the issue of Mr. Bingley’s behaviour and Jane’s process of forgiveness. Below is an excerpt for the novel where Elizabeth and Jane discuss Mr. Bingley’s inconstancy and Jane’s doubts about forgiving him.

Contrary to Elizabeth’s assumptions and hopes, Mr. Bingley’s visit had not made Jane happy. In fact, she had become more withdrawn than she had been since the gentleman’s removal from Hertfordshire. Elizabeth’s heart broke for Jane as she watched her beautiful sister’s eyes fill with unshed tears throughout dinner. Despite her valiant efforts to hide her sadness, it was plain for all to see how much Jane was suffering. Elizabeth decided to go to her sister’s room after dinner in an effort to draw her out of such quiet melancholy. She told Jane about Mr. Darcy’s disastrous first proposal, his subsequent apology for separating his friend from Jane, and the facts she had learned about Mr. Wickham from Colonel Fitzwilliam.

“Poor Mr. Darcy!” Jane uttered with great feeling. “How unhappy he must have felt when you refused his hand. I am sure it must have been quite a shock to him.”

“Do you blame me for rejecting his first proposal, Jane?” Elizabeth asked.

“No, Lizzy,” Jane replied, shaking her head thoughtfully. “You did what you thought was right based on your understanding of the gentleman. But I cannot help but feel sympathy for him. He must have suffered greatly, having loved you so deeply and knowing that you did not return his sentiments.”

Elizabeth could not help see the similarity between Jane’s feelings and Mr. Darcy’s. Could I have hurt him as badly as Mr. Bingley has done Jane? she wondered with no little embarrassment. Elizabeth was not surprised her sister sympathized with the man who had been the means of her own unhappiness. Indeed, she would have been surprised if Jane had not shown such generosity of spirit. She was, after all, the sweetest, kindest person Elizabeth had ever known.

“That you can forgive Mr. Darcy after he has caused you so much pain speaks of your loving nature, Jane,” Elizabeth said with feeling.

“I do not blame Mr. Darcy, Lizzy,” Jane said resolutely. “He only did what any honorable man would do for his friend. He did not know the nature of my feelings.”

“Dearest,” Elizabeth spoke tentatively, “do you not think that Mr. Bingley deserves your generosity and forgiveness as much as his friend does?”

Jane looked up at Elizabeth’s words. Fresh tears gathered in her eyes as she contemplated her sister’s question. “Oh, Lizzy,” Jane whispered.

Elizabeth moved closer and wrapped her sister in a loving embrace, her own tears joining those of Jane’s. “My darling Jane,” she whispered, “what you must have suffered!”

“I had no right to have any expectations,” Jane said as she slowly pulled away and tried to wipe her tears. “I know that now.”

“No, Jane,” Elizabeth said. “Do not say that. Mr. Bingley loved you. He loves you still. It has always been plain for everyone to see.”

“How can I know that, Lizzy? How can I ever reconcile with the fact that his feelings were so fickle that he could be so easily persuaded to abandon me? How am I to ever trust him?”

“He was persuaded that you did not love him.” Elizabeth argued.

“Do you think anyone will ever be able to persuade Mr. Darcy you do not love him?” Jane asked.

Elizabeth drew in a deep breath and shook her head. “Oh, Jane! I am afraid what Mr. Bingley lacks in self-assurance, Mr. Darcy has in abundance. When he first proposed to me, he was so confident and certain I would return his feelings he never doubted my acceptance of his proposal.”

“That may be true.” Jane conceded. “But Lizzy, you told Mr. Darcy you did not care for him. You refused his proposal. And even then, he continued to care for you. He did not abandon you. He was constant and steadfast in his love for you, even when he thought he could never have you.”

Elizabeth held her sister’s hand in hers and smiled. “My sweet, Jane,” she said gently. “I confess Mr. Darcy has proven his love for me in ways that have left me in no doubt of his constancy.”

“Do you not realize what a blessing that is, Lizzy?” Jane asked passionately. “Do you not see how fortunate you are to have such assurance for life? To know that he will never leave? That his love will never waver?”

“My darling,” Elizabeth said, her heart breaking for her sister again, “I know how fortunate I am to have such confidence in my partner. But Jane, Mr. Darcy has my assurances as well.”

Jane looked up at Elizabeth’s words, her eyes full of doubt. Elizabeth smiled.

“Mr. Darcy was willing to give me up, despite his love for me, when he thought I did not love him. I had to reassure him of my love before his second proposal. Now, I know he will never be persuaded to give me up because he knows how much I love him.” Elizabeth explained. “Mr. Bingley did not know. He was not confident in your love. And he is not as self-assured as Mr. Darcy. So, when he was persuaded by the people closest to him you did not care for him, he had no choice but to leave.”

“He did have a choice, Lizzy.” Jane argued. “He could have asked. He could have fought for my affection.”

“That is true.” Elizabeth admitted. “He was wrong. He was a fool for giving you up. But, are we not all fools in love? We all make mistakes, Jane. I know I have made my share of mistakes regarding Mr. Darcy and so has he. But we forgave each other.”

“Oh, Lizzy!” Jane exclaimed desperately. “I do not know what I should do.”

“Do you love him, still?” Elizabeth asked hesitantly.

“I do,” Jane said, her eyes pained and tired. “I do not think I will ever stop loving him.”

“Then trust in your love,” Elizabeth said. “Let that be your guide.”

“I do not understand, Lizzy!” Jane said.

“I know Mr. Bingley loves you, Jane,” Elizabeth said. “I am not suggesting you should make any decisions now. Give your love time to grow. If it is a strong love, and I am persuaded that it is, it will endure and become even stronger.”

“And if it is not?” Jane asked apprehensively.

“If it is not, you will know once and for all, and you will be a stronger person for it.”

 

 

 

 

37 Responses to The Gentleman who Yields Without Conviction

  1. I didn’t like Bingley at first, but then I met my husband. They are alike in so many ways. Mine was never fickle in his feelings toward me, but he could be persuaded to change his plans with little prompting, has a positive outlook, and possesses a general amiable nature. The brooding, mysterious man was my favorite growing up. Like a nut you needed to crack to understand what was inside. But now I understand the positives of a guy like Bingley. I would not have stood for what Jane endured – at least not without a lot of groveling. But I guess I can accept that we all make mistakes, and I now view this cast as people in their youth. Lovely excerpt. Thank you for that.

  2. My opinion of Bingley has changed through the years. I started liking his character immensely but as I get older I find that he is now a character that I am a bit indifferent about. I don’t dislike him but I don’t really like him either. I certainly prefer stories where he isn’t inconstant or ones where Jane is given a more deserving love interest.

  3. For my part, I like him well enough for someone else, but not for me. I always thought of Bingley as a type of warning. In the same way as Wentworth’s speach at the first reunion dinner about not being able to abide by women who are susceptible to persuasion. His good nature is is also a counterpoint to Darcy’s dark humor. But, I do love when authors make Bingley pay for his perfidy.

  4. This is a courageous post, Paisley James! Too many Jane-ites adore Bingley. My enjoyment of this character pretty much starts and ends with the actors who portrayed him in P&P95 and in Lost in Austen — but as a character in canon he just annoys me. He is too much like Wickham without the malice and deviousness — nothing but charm without substance. Spineless men do not interest me — his abandonment of Jane should not have been so easily forgiven much less forgotten. The “man” can’t even stand up to his two control-freak sisters much less to Darcy, the man he idolizes. Jane is a rather spineless character too, so perhaps they deserve each other. When I first read P&P I rooted for Lizzy to marry Colonel Fitzwilliam and for Jane to marry … well, almost anybody else, and I greatly enjoy JAFFs where one or the other or both actually occur. Jane is almost on the shelf, so I sometimes suppose that she was simply desperate and he showed up, so she convinced herself she was in love. Being so beautiful and kind ought to have merited a man of consequence to be her husband, but she stuck herself with that invertebrate. Never quite understood what point JA was trying to make with these two characters. I appreciate your observations as well as those of your other readers.

    • Thank you JanisB. I 100% agree with your comments. Bingley lacks the virtues I admire in a strong and/or interesting character. But sadly, I have come across many Bingleys in the real world.

  5. I quite agree with you on Mr. Bingley’s character, but the question I really want to ask you, is: when is your 3rd book coming? I’ve been waiting for it!!

    • Thank you for your interest Valerie. I am working on getting it published soon. To be honest, I was unhappy with parts of the story so I decided to make some changes. That’s why it has taken a while. But hopefully it will not be much longer.

  6. I agree about how disappointing it is that To Save and Protect is only in paperback. All JAFF should be available for Kindle.

  7. Agree 100% and I love the P&P variations where Bingley is either NOT accepted in the end or is written to grow as a much stronger character, with a mind of his own. Please, please, please bring out the 2nd edition soon, as I read the original in KU and loved it, but cannot afford $18 for a paperback! Great story and series! Glad to hear you and your husband are now recovered from Covid!

    • That is so kind of you Cheryl. We are recovered and very grateful for it. I promise I will have all three books available on KDP soon. All the best to you.

  8. Excellent post, today. Oh, I completely overlooked that warning. I have read it a dozen times and there were no red lights blinking that said, “remember this later.” Dang. I like the comparison between Bingley and Darcy. Yeah, I want a Darcy.

    Here is another point regarding Jane that could be considered… she has the marriage example of her parents. Her father ignores her mother… no matter her behavior. He avoids conflict [much like Bingley] and stays in his bookroom where Bingley flits about. Jane does not want a man who will ignore her or her needs. In one sense, she would be able to control Bingley. He would be malleable in her hands, unlike her father. She would also have to deal with his family. Girls marry men either like or unlike their fathers. Although Bennet and Bingley are similar, they are different. Where Bennet thinks nothing of openly mocking his wife, Bingley would never knowingly hurt Jane. To everyone he meets, she is his angel.

    Just a thought. Thanks for this delightful post. I really enjoyed it and it made me think. Blessings.

    • Thank you. I completely agree. Jane and Elizabeth have a terrible example of marriage in their parents. But while Lizzy goes for a man who is a total opposite to her own father, Jane chooses someone who has a lot in common with Mr. Bennet. Of course Bingley is “respectful” but honestly, his way of always thinking of her as an “angel” really offends me as a woman. He has her up on a pedestal, a model of perfect beauty and sweetness. But it is as though he cannot really see the woman behind the beautiful face.

  9. I can see your point and have had similar thoughts myself. I do like him as a character generally and I usually keep Jane and Bingley together, but I also try to write Bingley as a stronger character, often pushed to it by his sisters. Then again, I’ve also used his wishy-washyness to relegate him to the sidelines too…

    However, I will posit another interpretation. Many authors have suggested that Bingley’s true kryptonite is Darcy himself, or in other words, he listens to Darcy too much but can be firm otherwise. In particular, several (myself among them) have suggested that the true reason Bingley did not return to Jane was because Darcy got involved. Had Darcy not been present, Bingley would have ignored his sisters and returned to Netherfield. My next release uses this as a plot point, and I’ve used similar on a number of other occasions. Your mileage may vary.

    • Yes. I agree, Darcy’s influence definitely had a role in Bingley’s behaviour. And Darcy should really mind his own business. But that still doesn’t excuse Bingley’s inconsistency. Bingley lacks conviction.

  10. I’ve never been a Bingley fan either. He is too wishy-washy. I like the stories where he has more of a backbone, or Jane does and ends up with someone else. But, then, I’m not really a Jane fan either. She’s too… nice. I just want to ruffle her feathers.

  11. I agree with your assessment of Bingley. He reminds me of today’s popular guy in school who can date anyone he wants. He dates a cute, sweet girl. But if his friends pressure or tease him into giving her up, he will. That has cheater written all over it! I don’t see how Jane could marry him. I suspect that Bingley would keep a mistress in town.

    • You know this famous line by Elizabeth when she is discussing Darcy and Wickham?
      “One has got all the goodness, and the other all the appearance of it.”
      I really think it also applies to Darcy and Bingley, but in a different context of course.

  12. Love the post! I see what you are saying about Mr Bingley but I think too he does seem to be redeemed.

  13. Paisley,

    I love the excerpt and I agree with your comments about Mr. Bingley. But I think that Jane Austen tries to redeem him at the end of Pride & Prejudice when she wrote:

    Mr. Bingley and Jane remained at Netherfield only a twelvemonth. So near a vicinity to her mother and Meryton relations was not desirable even to his easy temper or her affectionate heart. The darling wish of his sisters was then gratified; he bought an estate in a neighbouring county to Derbyshire; and Jane and Elizabeth, in addition to every other source of happiness, were within thirty miles of each other.

    I think his development is telling here. Even though Bingley is so agreeable and easily pleased, even he can see that remaining at Netherfield bodes poorly for his (and his wife’s) future happiness. And not only does he know this, he acts on it by not renewing his lease again. We are told in Pride & Prejudice that Bingley is twenty-three years old when he lets Netherfield. He is rather young for making a decision about buying an estate that will affect his heirs for generations to come. Jane Austen mocks him for his hesitancy to make the decision writing that he might defer it for the next generation to purchase. Putting off the decision for the rest of his life would probably be a character flaw indeed! But by the end of the story, she has Mr. Bingley purchasing his own estate. She refers to his sisters’ gratification at this, but I think it is significant that the location is so pleasing to his wife. Jane and Elizabeth can visit with some frequency. And it is interesting that he did not buy five miles from Pemberley. To me, that is Austen hinting that Mr. Bingley has grown up. He is near enough to Mr. Darcy for visits, but not so close that he will continue living under his shadow (and direction).

    My two cents…..

    Thank you for the excerpt. I look forward to reading the whole story!

    Shana

    • Thank you Shana. I absolutely agree with you. There is definitely a character growth in Mr. Bingley by the end of the story. Perhaps I am too harsh because I keep comparing him to Mr. Darcy. Or maybe because we, as readers, have such high expectations of him at the beginning of the story and he ends up disappointing us when he abandons Jane.

  14. I love the variations where either Bingley or Jane has a bit more of a backbone. I always wonder what his and Jane’s life together will be like. I know Mr. B suggests they’ll be so complacent they’ll be taken advantage of by all the servants, but what happens when Bingley’s undying devotion to his wife fades and another pretty face appears, or when Caroline decides they must all go to Switzerland and Jane doesn’t want to, or when there are major repairs to be done and he gets different advice from different people on what to do.
    Easy-going is a great character trait, but some self-assurance and conviction is important too!

  15. Thank you for an thought provoking post, Paisley. I also have some doubts about Mr. Bingley as well. I think his character is weak and that he lacks strength of conviction to a large extent mainly because he allows his sisters to rule his life. He doesn’t stand firm and follow through when he should. I’ve also taken that into consideration for future books as well. He may not fare so good. 🙂

  16. Those two books are on my reread list! I hope to get around to them soon, however there seems to be an abundance of brilliant books being published this year, maybe due to the pandemic?
    I love your definition of the difference between Darcy and Bingley and so agree! Thank you.

  17. I would love to read To Save and Protect so it being available only in paperback form is a real disappointment. Please make it available in Kindle format and it will gain place at the top of my To read list ?

    • Thank you Satu.
      Believe me, I am working on it. Amazon has been giving me such grief over this book. But I am trying to have it re-published (as a second edition) and made available in Kindle format.

    • I am in agreement with Satu. I have been waiting patiently for the Kindle format so I could grab it. Hope you are able to do that with a fabulous relaunch.

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